Use Of Tenses On A Resume

One common mistake I see on resumes that I’m asked to look over is the misuse of past and present tense on a resume. What this ultimately does is provide the employer who is looking over your resume with some information to exclude you from being considered for an interview. So let’s look at what I mean.

Suppose you are working at the present time as a Receptionist and you are looking for a more lucrative job; one that pays more or offers more responsibility or a greater challenge. This is a job you are currently doing, so the words you use should be in the present tense when describing your accomplishments. Under your job title as a Receptionist you might say:

Greet and customers and clients, direct phone calls quickly and accurately for 20 employees

You’ll see above the words, “Greet” and “direct” are both used correctly as the line on the resume refers to something that you currently do here and now in the present. However, now suppose that this was a line from your resume referring to a job you held in 2010. In that case, the two words should be modified to read, “Greeted” and “directed”. This is because they refer not to something you do but, rather something you did.

When the tenses are misused, as in putting done a year in the past and using the current tense, an unintended message is being conveyed to the employer; “I don’t know the difference between using the past and the present”, “I have poor grammar skills”, I don’t pay attention to details as I didn’t notice”, or “Oh I noticed, I just don’t really care all that much”. Another message you might be relaying is that you have less education that you should have. Ouch!

You see from the employers point of view, this resume represents the very best of what you are capable of. This is your personal marketing tool after all, and therefore should be an example of something that has great worth to you. The employer is going to suppose that if there are errors on a document that means a great deal to you personally, imagine what having you working for them would be like when you are working on documents that have less personal meaning for you. Why you might be making these errors and more all the time. How is that going to reflect on the company itself if you are sending out correspondence with poor grammar?

If you are applying for work in an office setting, this problem is of even greater significance because others may be counting on your grammar skills to fix up their hastily worded memos and letters and get them all ready for distribution. If they have to then go over and proofread everything you do and send it back to you for revisions all the time, they might be better hiring someone else who can get things right the first time, so they do.

On a resume specifically, it’s also confusing and a glaring error to see the past and the present used in two different lines in the same job title when describing your role and accomplishments. So saying. “Managed 20 employees” and then “Lead projects and inspire creativity in others” has the employer wondering if you are referring to a job you currently do or once did. You can’t have both the past and the present. The dates on the same line that refer to when you are or were employed by a company you are referring to, must mirror the words you choose.

Oh and another key area to look at on your resume is the section, “Qualifications”. The things you put in this section are the things that qualify you at the present time for the job you are applying for. So in other words, use the present tense when putting things in this part of the resume. These are skills and experience you are offering up to the company rather than skills you once had but have no longer which is what using the past tense would seem to indicate.

Remember too that as you create bullets under your various jobs you hold and once held, you should not just be copying down things from your job description, but rather selling yourself as having accomplished things. What if anything are or were you recognized for? And please keep the job you are applying FOR in mind as you think about what to put down. Make it easy for the employer to draw a link from what you currently do or have down, to what you might do for them if you are hired. Even when the jobs you had in the past are not related, find transferable skills to highlight so it reads well.

Give your resume a quick glance now and see if you’ve made this common mistake. It might be fixed as easily as adding the letter, “d” changing “package goods for transport” to “packaged goods for transport”. One additional letter avoiding any problems and maybe the difference between an interview and getting passed over.

So to sum up: Past job = past tense and current job = current tense.


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